It’s two decades since we first met Bali-based Australian Janet DeNeefe. Back then, the energetic businesswoman, restaurateur and mother of four was planning the first Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. It was Janet’s way of helping lure tourists back to Bali after the bombings a year earlier. Her plan worked; countless authors have since made their way to Ubud to charm literature-loving visitors.
As Janet prepares for her 20th festival – starting October 18 – she chats to The Starfish:
Reflecting on the past 20 years, any crazy moments that went on behind the scenes you can now tell us about?
There are so many cute and crazy stories. I am saving these for the last session of the Festival this year.
Your contact book must be full of writers, poets, rock stars! You’ve met dozens and dozens of prominent authors from around the world; who are a couple of your favourites ?
I loved meeting Nick Cave. He was so friendly, warm and kind. Our Festival was his first visit to Bali – and Indonesia – and he was truly appreciative of the opportunity. That was 2012; a great year. In 2005, our second year, Michael Ondaatje and Amitav Ghosh attended. The festival started 6 days after the second Bali bombings. They will always be favourite authors. Then there’s Richard Flanagan. He always bring the jokes! Anita and Kiran Desai are super special too.
What’s different about the Ubud Writers Fest, two decades on?
The Festival always follows roughly the same recipe with a range of activities, from morning until the wee hours. I call it a moveable feast with discussions and lots of great food and parties. What’s different this year is that we seem to back to pre-Covid normal!
What’s the theme of this year’s festival?
The theme is Atita, Wartamana, Anagata; Past, Present, Future. Inspired by the Balinese concept of ‘Tri Semaya,‘ it looks at their philosophical view of time and space, how it emphasizes the importance of balance and harmony, and revels in an ongoing celebration of the past to embrace the present and envision a better future. It shows us the importance of valuing our culture, history, and traditions while appreciating our present and looking towards our future. It also acknowledges our festival – where it’s been, who we are right now and where we are going!
Who are some key authors attending?
Geraldine Brooks, Geetanjali Shree, Shehan Karunatilaka, Bernadine Evaristo, Anna Funder, Pip Williams, Leigh Sales, Annabel Crabb and Behrouz Boochani.
You must be ploughing through a stack of books leading up to the festival. What’s by your bed right now?
I have just finished Rebecca Makkai’s latest novel, I Have Some Questions for You. I could not put it down and I managed to read a large chunk of it on the flight to Melbourne! Now I am reading Anna Funder‘s Wifedom, Debra Dank’s We Come With This Place, is next in line.
And what would you suggest we should be reading to prepare ourselves?
Anyone who is in our program. They are all fantastic!
Along with great authors, the Festival includes some fascinating human rights activists. Who will we hear from this year?
The Festival has been called a human right’s festival posing as a writer’s festival. Vandana Shiva is leading this line-up; we are excited she can finally join us this year. She’s a force to be reckoned with! It’s important we hear voices like these.
Your daughter Laksmi, the recent Miss Indonesia, is an Ambassador for the Writers Fest this year. You must be proud! Her large social media profile, may help lure younger readers to the Festival, would you say?
With her advocacy for literacy, she is passionate about reading and writing. She has also grown up with the festival, so it flows in her blood. We chose her to be Ambassador to help connect with young Indonesians, and to bring a creative, youthful spirit to UWRF.
Ubud Writers & Readers Festival 18-22 October
For more information to book www.ubudwritersfestival.com